In Depth

New Tricks finale: 'life in the old dog yet'

Critics struggle to mourn the end of police show that had 'run out of steam'


Viewers bade farewell to the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) last night as police drama New Tricks finally came to an end - but there was little sorrow from the critics.

After 12 series and 107 episodes, the finale featured a routine cold case about a mental health activist murdered on New Year's Eve in 1999.

Terry Ramsey at the Daily Telegraph says it was "wholly predictable", with a "twist that you could see coming a mile away" and a perpetrator, played by Meera Syal, who "couldn't have been more obviously the villain if she had had a glowing neon arrow over her head saying 'baddie'".

He asserts that the series, which started as a one-off drama 12 years ago and became one of BBC One's highest-rating programmes of recent times, "faded away with a whimper".

"New Tricks had a good run, but its glory days are gone," he says. "Ending it was an act of mercy."

While its ratings were in decline, other dramas would still "genteelly murder" to get so many viewers, says Andrew Billen at The Times.

"It ill-behoves a critic to spit on the grave of New Tricks, the arthritic detective limp that peacefully expired last night," he says. "Yet rarely, I fear, have I found accentuating the positive so hard in a eulogy."

All of the interest was in how the series would be laid to rest, says Billen, and "this funeral was so neat that the coffin practically had a bow on it".

In The Guardian, Stuart Heritage points out that on numerous occasions more people watched New Tricks than anything else in the country, yet its finale appeared to go "uncelebrated".

He suggests this is because it is "not really New Tricks any more", with almost all of the beloved characters gone and "cynically swapped with whichever grey-haired actor happened to be knocking around the BBC at the time".

The show had "run out of steam", says the Daily Mail's Christopher Stevens. "The final case tried to ignite excitement… but the touchpaper kept fizzling out."

Viewers will miss it, says Stevens, but they can take comfort in the fact that repeats will carry on for years.

"New Tricks is always good for an audience of five million or so, making it one of the Beeb's most reliable stand-bys. There's life in the old dog yet."

New Tricks finale: how will the twelfth and final series end?

30 September

Police drama New Tricks is fast approaching its final episode, which will air next Tuesday. So how will producers mark the very end of its 12-season run?

The show is still proving popular, drawing the biggest television audience for yesterday's 9pm slot with 5.4 million viewers.

In the penultimate episode, fans watched the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) investigate the death of an "alternative medicine practitioner" bludgeoned to death seven years earlier. They were led into a world of cryopreservation – the practice of keeping "clinically dead" patients frozen in time to extend their life cycle.

But the team's handling of the case came under fire and, in next week's finale, UCOS is threatened with closure.

Ted Case (Larry Lamb), Danny Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Steve McAndrew (Denis Lawson) are expected to delve into the case of a political activist murdered in a place called "The Madhouse", but an order comes from above for the three men to cease the investigation.

According to the plot synopsis, they rally on and uncover something "much bigger than just a straightforward murder, involving some top officials, a multinational drugs company and signs of a massive cover up".

Meanwhile, DCI Sasha Miller (Tamzin Outhwaite) is said to be "drawn into a game of political cat and mouse" when she realises that the UCOS investigators are "merely puppets" in a game orchestrated by the notoriously cut-throat assistant commissioner Cynthia Kline.

Speaking to What's On TV, Outhwaite says the final episode "shows the best elements of UCOS – trust, loyalty and just the right amount of disobedience".

She adds that the "whole gang pull together in the face of authority for the greater good" and there are some "really touching moments where they each reveal what working for UCOS has meant to them".

The stakes are "pretty high as far as whether UCOS will carry on and who will leave", with the power shifting continuously, says Outhwaite.

So is this the end of UCOS? BBC bosses have promised that the final series will "go out on a high" – but whether they were referring to the quality of the show or the good fortune of its characters remains to be seen.

New Tricks under fire for 'incongruous' rape story

26 August

The latest episode of New Tricks has come under fire for including a "completely incongruous" storyline about rape.

In The Wolf of Wallbrook, episode four of the final series, which aired last night on BBC 1, the victim of an historic sexual assault tells Detective Chief Inspector Sasha Miller (Tamzin Outhwaite) about her ordeal.

But Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham has argued that the "flat, stale show" has no business using a rape storyline to drive its worn-out plots.

"Rape stories in dramas are justified only in the most select of circumstances; a rape story has to mean something profound, something that takes us to new levels of understanding," she says. "It isn't a hand grenade to be thrown into a moth-ridden cop show that's run out of ideas."

Graham praised the actress, Kate Maravan, "burdened with this hellish plot-backpack" for making a "good job" of her speech. But she said the storyline was "wholly specious" and "completely incongruous", creating a "queasy" juxtaposition with the more familiar "joshing" amongst the main characters.

In comparison, Graham points to writer Sally Wainwright, who used rape with "devastating brilliance" in police drama Happy Valley, where viewers witness the "incendiary and heart-rending" fall out of the attack.

Graham complains that there were no such consequences in last night's New Tricks. "The woman tells her story, the episode is dusted off, and ends with a spectacularly lame piece of practical jokery," she says.

In conclusion, she says "this grab at gravitas should never have seen the light of day in a worn-out show".

New Tricks: will BBC regret killing off its 'timeless' show?

19 August

As the twelfth and final series of New Tricks gets underway, some critics are beginning to wonder if the BBC will regret its decision to can the show.

Dennis Waterman, the only original cast member left in the line-up, departed last week and has been replaced by Larry Lamb, who apparently signed up for the show just as the BBC decided to cancel it.

Lamb, who last night appeared as the acting head at the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad and began investigating the unsolved murder of a vicar, has joked that joining the show in its final season has been like "gate-crashing your own wake".

New Tricks has remained popular despite disparaging reviews about its "corny humour" and "motorised scooter" pace, and comfortably won last night's 9pm slot with 26.6 per cent of the ratings.

Just as it is poised to pound its last beat, critics also appear to be warming to its charms. The first episode of the new series won praise (albeit limited) from Gabriel Tate at The Times, who described it as "leaner, pacier and more engaged than a series of its vintage had any right to be".

Tate conceded that "even the most bafflingly long-lived show can drag itself out of mediocrity to come good once in a while".

Christopher Stevens at the Daily Mail says the BBC might "come to regret" its decision to cancel the show. "New Tricks is formulaic, but it's a stable formula that never goes stale," says Stevens.

"Midsomer Murders is faced with the constant challenge of devising more outlandish killings, and Silent Witness must always seek out darker crimes, but New Tricks is timeless. All the components – bodies, suspects, detectives – are endlessly recyclable."

The Daily Telegraph's Gerard O'Donovan also thought the first episode was "head and shoulders" above the vast majority of previous New Tricks episodes in terms of humour, pace and suspense.

"Like many a cop show before it (Taggart, CSI, Midsomer Murders et al) New Tricks has withstood its gradual change of personnel well," says O'Donovan. Any misgivings over Waterman's departure shouldn't blind viewers to the fact that the new characters, such as Lamb, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Tamzin Outhwaite, have "to some extent given the series a new lease of life", he adds. "Overall, it makes one that much sadder that New Tricks will be handing in its warrant card at the end of this run."

New Tricks: Dennis Waterman bows out after 12 years

11 August

Dennis Waterman made his name playing a bolshy young cop in The Sweeney and has spent his late middle-age playing a bolshy old one in New Tricks. Tonight will be his final appearance, in what the BBC says is the last series of the show.

The 67-year-old revealed last year that he had agreed to appear in only the first two episodes of the 12th series, which began last week and co-stars Nicholas Lyndhurst, Tamzin Outhwaite and Denis Lawson.

The former Minder star told the Radio Times he was quitting New Tricks after more than a decade because the magic had gone, with the departure of his original co-stars James Bolam, Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong.

Waterman told the magazine: "Great TV shows are like rock 'n' roll bands – you mess with the line-up at your peril. This is no slight on the new cast, but everything did change really dramatically and suddenly when Amanda and Alun left."

Explaining why he had carried on to make series 12 with a new line-up, Waterman said: "I'd already signed up for the next season. And then my wife started buying another bleeding house and I had no option. But it wasn't the same."

So how was last week's first episode? The Daily Telegraph's Gerard O'Donovan gives this "gripping two-parter" four out of five stars. Despite Waterman's decision to quit, the show's writers are serving him well with a "memorable" finale, he says.

While most episodes "proceed at the velocity of an Age Concern mobility scooter", Julian Simpson's writing is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its "humour, pace and suspense", says O'Donovan.

O'Donovan detects a "full-on homage (including the backing track)" to Waterman's Sweeney days in the opening of the show. In fact the episode is so good, O'Donovan will be sorry to see the back of the show, with or without Waterman.

For The Observer, Euan Ferguson takes a different view of the series: New Tricks "hasn't exactly died but it's not smelling too good". The chemistry has been lost in successive cast changes, says Ferguson, agreeing with Waterman.

However, Ferguson agrees that the fist episode was "a corker" in which Waterman, a far more subtle actor than people realise "plays a blinder". He's making a "canny" move in quitting now, though.

After episode two, to be broadcast on BBC1 tonight at 9pm, Waterman's place will be taken by Larry Lamb. What will Waterman do next? All he tells Radio Times is he plans to "slob about", adding: "I'm not actually retired, I'm just having a rest."

Waterman's second great success was the TV series Minder, in which he played a bodyguard to George Cole's Arthur Daley. Daley kept working until his death at the age of 90 last week; Waterman is a comparatively youthful 67.

New Tricks cancelled after 'friendly fire'

25 February

BBC One is axing its long-running detective drama New Tricks after its forthcoming twelfth series.

The BBC said it is calling time on the show "to make room for new series". This summer's season will be the end of the road for the cast, which features Nicholas Lyndhurst, Dennis Waterman, Tamzin Outhwaite and Denis Lawson.

New Tricks was originally launched in 2003. Amanda Redman played DSI Sandra Pullman, the head of a squad of retired police officers investigating unsolved cases.

Redman is among former cast members who have criticised the direction the series has taken. The actress, who left in 2013, said it has become "bland", the Daily Mail reports.

"The characters are not being as anarchic as they used to be, which I think is a huge shame," she said. James Bolam, another member of the original line-up, said it had "gone stale".

BBC One controller Charlotte Moore and BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson issued a joint statement, saying: "We are incredibly proud of New Tricks and would like to thank Roy Mitchell the brilliant creator, Wall to Wall and Headstrong, and all the cast and teams involved across the 12 series."

Headstrong Pictures – producers of the final series - said: "We are obviously sad to see it come to an end, but with the twelfth series currently in production for TX [transmission] later this year we are pulling out all the stops to make it a rewarding finale for viewers."

The crime drama enjoyed ratings highs of 9.9m in 2011 but by last year the series average was just 5.9m, the Daily Mirror reports.

New Tricks star Alun Armstrong quits after angry writer's tweet

23 August 2012

New Tricks has been such a success for BBC 1 that nine series have been shot. But star Alun Armstrong announced last night he was quitting, hours after the writer-director of the next episode made a four-letter complaint about the cast “speaking out of turn”.

 The drama about the Met Police unsolved crime squad relies on a heavyweight cast, in British TV terms. Armstrong's departure, reported by The Sun, is a third blow to the show after Likely Lads veteran James Bolam quit last year and Amanda Redman announced she will leave in 2013. That will leave only Dennis Waterman from the original line-up. The last series to be broadcast, series eight, was one of the most successful ever in terms of ratings. It remains to be seen how the programme will fare without Bolam onboard – series nine goes out from Monday night. Interviewed for the Radio Times, though, the stars of the show bizarrely seemed to talk it down ahead of the screening, complaining the writing isn't as good as it used to be. Redman said: "It’s more bland now. The characters are not being as anarchic as they used to be, which I think is a shame.” Armstrong agreed, saying he was "not enamoured" with his character's recent scripts. Waterman weighed in, saying "People aren't as stupid as writers think" and adding: "We all want to move to Copenhagen to get to do some really extraordinary television." They also claimed to have written some of their scripts themselves. Armstrong said: "If we felt that a story didn’t work, or that bits of the story could be improved, then – if the writer wasn’t around – we would set about rewriting it ourselves." This was more than writer-director Julian Simpson, responsible for Monday's episode, could take. Simpson, who is a more youthful figure than his cast, tweeted yesterday: "A New Tricks I wrote and directed airs on Monday. I can tell you EXACTLY how much of it the actors wrote: not a f***ing comma." He added that they had contributed "big fat zero" to the second episode before suggesting sarcastically that he would stop writing and give the cast a pad and pen. He concluded that he got on "phenomenally well" but didn't "appreciate actors speaking out of turn". Support came for Simpson in the august form of the veteran TV comedy writer Maurice Gran who wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the cast had "succumbed to a common mental ailment – the delusion that they actually write the scripts".

“As any scriptwriter can tell you, there are two types of actor – good ones and bad ones. The good actors know they are nothing – nothing, do you hear me?! – without a brilliant script. The bad actors think they’re making it all up themselves.”

Remembering one of his more recent hits, The New Statesman, Gran said star Rick Mayall "never once told us what to write, even though he had a parallel career as a successful writer-performer".


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